A company striving to reduce food waste wins Entrepreneurship Intervarsity in the Social Impact Category

Published On: 14 February 2024|

“One of the biggest reasons for food insecurity is food waste. There is way more food in the value chain than we actually use. A third of all good, healthy food is wasted. This is a global issue that we all need to care about.”

Those opening remarks won a Vaal University of Technology (VUT) student, Ms Tumisho Thobejane, a prize in the Social Impact category of the 5th EDHE Entrepreneurship Intervarsity finals on 1 December 2023. The founder of a food waste reduction company, Foodable, and 4th year Advanced Diploma in Biomedical Technology student won R20 000 in the coveted category.

Ms Thobejane, who grew up in Katlehong on the East Rand in Gauteng, beat out 34 Social Impact contestants (there were 1266 successful entries across all categories) and was one of just nine women in a total of 24 finalists.

Ms Tumisho Thobejane (far left) celebrates her win, cheered on by Ms Itumeleng Dhlamini, Social Innovation Specialist at SA Breweries; Mr Benathi Makiyela, 2nd runner-up in the Existing Business: Social Impact category during Intervarsity 2022; and Mr Sandile Shabalala, EDHE’s Senior Student Engagement Officer.

This prestigious event was hosted by Universities South Africa’s (USAf’s) Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE) programme funded by the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET).

Describing Foodable, which she set up in the Vanderbijl Park area, Thobejane told the judges: “The fast food-chain industry has contributed to a lot of food waste in our country, leading to loss of profit and environmental problems. Using the design thinking approach I developed Foodable, a food security enterprise solely focused on putting food that would otherwise have gone to waste into the hands of people who need it the most.

“It reduces food waste in restaurants, thereby reducing accumulated costs – restaurants have to pay to dispose of waste food. We came up with a way for restaurants to save on their disposal expenses while serving affordable meals.”

How it works

Foodable uses a cashless currency.

Thobejane and her team worked with VUT Gauteng Science and Technology Park to produce 3D print tokens that could be redeemed from any of their partner restaurants for a full meal made of excess ingredients.

“You can use the token yourself or donate it to someone in need. The tokens cost R20, of which R15 goes to the restaurant and R5 comes to us once the token has been redeemed.” Foodable currently has two local partner restaurants – Glamour Magic takeaway and Pizza Mobile in the Vanderbijl Park area.

Knowing the trends

Each token has a unique QR code on the back, enabling Tumisho and her team to understand customer trends.

“We are able to tell when and where the token has been sold and how long it has been in circulation before being redeemed. We developed an app that the restaurant can use to scan the token. Since March this year, we have sold 135 tokens, generating an income of R2 700 from sales, which amounts to 78 meals for people who need them.”

The Foodable’s approach, she said, had been successful in reducing food waste in restaurants while feeding the needy. “Our aim is to feed people, not garbage bins — one token at a time. “

She said the business had been in a pilot phase since March 2023. To expand, they need to buy 3D printers that cost R12 000 each. They also have to pay around R2 000 to onboard new restaurants while raising funds for branding and marketing.

The annual Entrepreneurship Intervarsity attracts studentpreneurs in numbers, including winners from previous years’ competitions. This was part of the student audience at  Intervarsity 2023, with the judges occupying the front row.

Judges’ questions

Judge Naledi Gallant, Human Resources Management Specialist: This idea impacts socio-economic conditions and is an innovative concept. You mentioned two restaurants… what prevents you from onboarding more?

Response: Big chains want a bit more data before they will partner with us.

Judge Duduzile Mathabela, Enterprise Development at Standard Bank: Who keeps the token? Is it biodegradable?

Response: The tokens are 3D printed using a biodegradable material so if it gets lost it’s not harmful. We sell them to people who then leave it at the restaurant. We can get the tokens.

Judges Miles Kubheka, CEO of Wakanda Food Accelerator, Entrepreneur and Martin Matshego, Head: of Investment Readiness, both in the food accelerator business with many restaurants, pledged to help Tumisho with her pilot.

Charmain Naidoo is a contract writer for Universities South Africa.